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Florida’s First Cannabis-Friendly Jiu Jitsu Tournament

cannabis jiu jitsu

In recent years, a unique cannabis sub-culture has grown out of the practice of Jiu Jitsu thanks in part to the support of the podcaster Joe Rogan, who is a world-famous advocate of weed and a two-time BJJ black belt holder. “You feel better at Jiu Jitsu when you’re high,” he said in one podcast, saying that cannabis has an “ego-dissolving” effect that makes grapplers more aware of the “possibility of error.”

For Joseph Resendez both cannabis and Jiu Jitsu are so much more, creating the opportunity to overcome a life threatening disability and build a unique career. Inspired by the Las Vegas High Rollerz events, Resendez, a purple belt, has created his own event in Florida, Elevated Grapplers. The inaugural event took place in September 2022 and was a huge success. Resendez is one of those cannabis characters that reveal the heights people can achieve when the odds are stacked against them. In this interview, he talks about Elevated Grapplers, the benefits of mixing cannabis and Jiu Jitsu, and the future of this growing sub-culture.

QUESTION: How did you get into cannabis and Jiu Jitsu?

I got into cannabis when I was about 14 but I grew up around it. I grew up in a city in Michigan, and a lot of family members were users, some were growers. It was always around. I started smoking cannabis between the ages of 14 and 16. I found Jiu Jitsu when I was about 22. At the time, I was working for a local news station and a colleague covered an event at a local gym called Wolf Pack. The first time I went I got beat up by a 14-year-old in about two minutes. That sparked my interest. I’ve been training ever since.

QUESTION: Were you aware of links between cannabis and Jiu Jitsu when you started training, and how would you describe the benefit of cannabis while practicing Jiu Jitsu?

No. When I started training, I continued smoking, as I had been for years but didn’t notice people using cannabis specifically to benefit their training until about a year or so later. I used to dread smoking before training but once I found out that people used it as a way to relax their body and mind, then I started to take notice, and be more conscious of my own use. I found that when I train high my body is more receptive to what the other person is doing. Cannabis enables you to take a step back and consider what’s going on rather than just going into kill mode.

Instead of that, you’re more consciously thinking of the next move, and you can even anticipate it. For me, it puts me in the zone. I’m thinking about the moves but I’m not in any rush to do a move until I know it’s the right one. Anyone who smokes know that you get into your own head, and that’s why people say it gets their creative juices flowing. The same is true of Jiu Jitsu. You really get into the flow of it, and that’s why we talk about flow-rolling, where you’re transitioning from one move to the next move. I describe it as a dance. When I’m teaching, I tell people, we’re about to do a little dance, and then I point out a series of positions. And when you watch people do it, it looks like a dance.

QUESTION: Tell me about your event, Elevated Grapplers? What inspired you, and what was your goal?

It’s one of the first legal cannabis-friendly Jiu Jitsu tournaments in Florida. It took place in September 10th 2022, at the Hemp Mansion, which is a local hemp farm. We had a headline fight, John Combs versus Sebastian Rodriguez, both high level athletes known in the Jiu Jitus community. We had 8 athletes competing in the tournament, and we gave a $1,000 first prize, $500 second prize, $250 third place, and also gave a Puffco Peak to the winner of Submission of the Night, and all of our athletes got Boveda packs. Plus, we had lots of vendors at the event providing food, drinks and deserts.

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On the day, we drew a crowd of about 200 people, and everyone had a really great time. The winner on the day was Steve Koslow, and he also won Submission of the Night. Rather than have a panel of judges adjudicating, we got the audience involved, and got them to vote on and choose the Submission winner. It was really important to me to involve the audience in the event, and make sure they had access to good food. I also wanted people to watch Jiu Jitsu and see the benefit of herbal medicine. I got the inspiration from the Las Vegas event High Rollerz, the organizers Lonnie and Kevin are friends of mine. They’ve created a high-profile event that happens every other month, and I go out there often.

QUESTION: What was the reaction like to Elevated Grapplers?

Well, for a moment I thought it was a no go, and no one was going to show up. I was even worried that I’d have no fighters. None of the fighters signed up until the last day. I had all these vendors organized, venue booked, everything paid for, and not all of the fighters confirmed or any spectators until literally the last day, the day before the event. It was super stressful but then 200 people showed up and it turned out to be a blast. And I couldn’t have done it without the support of the vendors, we had support from Verano, Curaleaf, Boveda, Puffco, High Rollerz, Kushy Pies, Smokey Jones and Willard Hometeam Real Estate.

I also had organizational help from the Hemp Olympics, and on the day, dinner was supplied by Mad Hatters – it was really good food. It was funny because before the event a lot of people were telling me it would never happen, and I was wondering if I was doing the right thing. And afterwards, it was like it was always meant to be, people were just so happy with the results.

QUESTION: Do you think athletes like the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields being open about their cannabis use is important to push this sub-culture forward?

Yes, it is. They play a vital role in bridging the two industries together. Because they’re open about it, it goes a long way to breaking down barriers, and they prove all the naysayers wrong. There are a lot of naysayers. Cannabis wasn’t accepted by the UFC until last year, which makes such a huge difference to competitors. I trained under 8x World Champion Robson Moura and he had the hardest time accepting it. But if I smoke all the time anyway, it has a different effect on me.

Plus, it makes my training so much better to the point that he doesn’t mind it now because he doesn’t see it as having a negative impact on me. They call me Falamasa because when I broke my finger on the mats, I just popped it back into place, and continued to train. These events are also really important because they give both the fighters and the brands more opportunities to come together. That’s what High Rollerz is doing with their events, and what I hope to do with mine.

QUESTION: What is the appeal of Jiu Jitsu?

There’s no better feeling in the world than choking someone out, or having someone try to choke you and you manage to grapple your way out of it. It’s such a rush. If you fought it off, and you survived, it’s one of the best feelings. That’s why people get addicted to it. Plus I have a breathing disability called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome. Only one thousand people in the world have it, and it basically means my brain doesn’t tell my body to breathe. Yet I smoke, train, run my business, run these events. My attitude is very much to take advantage of every opportunity, and no excuses. I can thank Jiu Jitsu for that attitude.

QUESTION: You’re already planning the next event, yes?

Yes, I’m planning to host it in January or February, and right now, I’m looking for the right location. People are already looking forward to it.

This interview was condensed and edited.

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About the author

Natasha Kerry Smith